How Consuming and Wasting Less Means Living More

Take the opportunity of a fresh, new spring season to reaffirm your environmental goals. One way you can become an environmental hero is by reevaluating ways in which you can reduce waste in your everyday life. According to a study conducted by Duke University, the average person generates 4.3 pounds of waste per day. That’s about the weight of three basketballs per person being thrown into landfills every day.  We are producing 1.6 pounds more than what was produced per person back in 1960. But don’t despair! Spring is all about renewal, so here are a few beginning steps that you can take to make a difference:

Avoid Disposables

  • Bring a portable reusable bag with you everywhere you go or at least have it readily accessible in the car. If you go shopping, you’ll be able to easily retrieve your reusable bag. Next time the cashier asks plastic or paper, your response will be “I have my own bag.”
  • Bring a portable water bottle with you. Not only will you save money, you will break the cycle of plastic consumption.

Buy/Wear Second-Hand Whenever Possible

  • Fast fashion is the second biggest polluter in the world next to oil. Clothing made via the fast fashion method are not durable. As we buy more and more of these types of clothing, we are increasing our consumption of unsustainable clothes.
  • Visit thrift stores to find unique clothing while saving some money and the environment
  • Borrow clothes from friends or set up a clothing exchange where everyone can share items together. Not only will you expand your style options, you’ll also make a tangible effect on the amount of pollution produced by new clothing manufacturing.

Make the Transition to Digital

  • Cancel paper subscriptions of magazines and newspapers and switch to digital
  • Use audiobooks and ebooks. If you must have a paper copy, visit the thrift store to give old books another life.

The less we consume the less we waste. You don’t have to aim for a perfect, zero-waste lifestyle. Every little bit of trash that is diverted counts. So the next time the waiter asks if you need a straw, just say “No thanks.”

March Madness: Learn How to Work as a Team

It happens every year.  Thousands of college basketball fans get wrapped up in the fervor and zeal of March Madness. Watching these athletes play is a true lesson in teamwork and communication. As Michael Jordan once said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”

With all the attention on basketball, it got SGA thinking, how do we think as a team when it comes to public outreach and education campaigns?

In sports, everybody on the team knows their roles and how important their positions are to bring about success. Coaches strategically place players in positions that will use the player’s abilities to the utmost potential.  Ideally, every player will play his or her best and work with other team members in the hopes of bringing home the trophy.

Companies, departments, and businesses should function in the same way.

Just like a winning team, instead of focusing on what people are doing and their predetermined roles, it is best to use each team member’s strengths at the right moments.  A strong player like Lebron James is more than capable of making the shot, but he’s also an excellent passer and that can be what the team needs. We all have projects we work on together with endpoints, so for any project, we should ask these questions:

  1. Is this team working towards a clear goal?
  2. Is that goal real enough? Tangible enough?
  3. In basketball, the increased points on the scoreboard indicate success. What type of action or goal produces an increase in points within the work that we do in our teams?

With the spirit of March Madness, SGA compiled four core indicators of successful teamwork:

Trust. Each individual team member brings unique skills and characteristics to the table. Overall, team strength is a sum of all of the members’ individual talents.  The key differentiator at play is trust because without it, the team will only be as strong as its weakest member.

Empathy. Everyone has seen it:  Coaches losing their cool during a bad game.  Their frustration and anger usurp their ability to coach confidently and calmly.  What players need to hear from their coaches are the next viable plays in a calm and confident tone. Team leaders must set the example for team members to encourage, rather than criticize each other when the stakes are high.

Appreciation. Teamwork means understanding and appreciating individual team members’ roles, traits and skills.  Each player understands his or her role and appreciates the other teammates’ respective contributions.

Management. Every team suffers devastating defeats, however, it’s how the team’s leader manages the failure that matters. Leaders can capitalize on a setback by transforming it into a learning opportunity. Learning to overcome adverse circumstances in the future transforms failure into fuel for future team success.

Black History Month: 5 Environmental Leaders to Look Up To

In honor of Black History Month, SGA celebrates the achievements of five African American environmental leaders who have championed environmental issues for local and national communities. These heroes brought awareness to environmental issues by creating urban farms in empty lots, walking everywhere and giving up motorized transport, live broadcasting environmental justice issues, and sharing stories of the Buffalo Soldiers. Take a moment, in fact take many moments, to celebrate the spectacular accomplishments of these five remarkable African-American leaders who worked to promote healthy environments and communities for all.

John Francis, The Planet Walker
“One day in 1983, John Francis stepped out on a walk. For the next 22 years, he trekked and sailed around North and South America, carrying a message of respect for the Earth — for 17 of those years, without speaking.

During his monumental, silent trek, he earned an MA in environmental studies and a PhD in land resources. Today his Planetwalk foundation consults on sustainable development and works with educational groups to teach kids about the environment.” Watch his TED Talk here

“Part of the mystery of walking is that the destination is inside us and we really don’t know when we arrive until we arrive.”

Karen Washington, Urban FarmerGrowing up in the urban density of New York, all Karen wanted to do was become a farmer. Since 1985, she has transformed empty lots throughout the Bronx into community gardens. The first one was named the “Garden of Happiness.”
Karen is the co-founder of the Black Urban Growers, an organization that helps build networks and communities between urban and rural growers.

“You know sometimes people think food is a privilege. Food isn’t a privilege, it’s a right. And we want people to exercise that right to fresh, healthy produce in their neighborhood, and that’s what we’re all about.”

Will Allen, Urban Farmer
A MacArthur fellow, Will Allen is a former professional basketball player who built an urban farm without fences on an empty lot in Milwaukee to provide fresh, healthy, and affordable foods to underserved communities. As the founder of the non-profit Growing Power, Will has used innovative farming techniques such as vermicomposting, or using worms to turn organic waste into high quality compost to produce large amounts of food in small areas.

“It’s my belief that everybody regardless of their economic means should have access to the same healthy, safe, and affordable food that is grown naturally.”

Margie Eugene-Richard, Activist
Margie installed a webcam in her trailer home to live broadcast the pollution of her predominantly black neighborhood of Norco, Louisiana coming from her local Shell oil refinery. While speaking at an international environmental conference, Richard approached Shell officials and invited them to take a sniff from a bag of Norco air. Margie was the champion in a long, hard victory to hold the Shell oil refinery accountable to her community.

“Truth and justice for the betterment of life, the environment and government is the stairway to upward mobility.”

Shelton Johnson, National Park Ranger
A Detroit native, Shelton grew up dreaming of wild mountain landscapes. Today, he shares stories of the Buffalo Soldiers as a park ranger in Yosemite National Park and across classrooms in the US. Shelton invited Oprah Winfrey to Yosemite in 2010 to encourage African Americans to claim their inheritance as owners of our national parks.

“And I can’t not think of the other kids, just like me – in Detroit, Oakland, Watts, Anacostia – today. How do I get them here? How do I let them know about the buffalo soldier history, to let them know that we, too, have a place here?”

Develop a Relationship You Can Work With

Do you have a best friend at work? This question elicits pause, but it is also a question that reveals one of the foundational characteristics of a highly productive workgroup. According to Gallup research, there are 12 key factors that describe great workgroups. One of these relates to the quality of the relationships we have with co-workers. Employees who report having a best friend, or a coworker to share a quality relationship with are:

  • 37% more likely to report that someone at work encourages their development
  • 27% more likely to report that the mission of their company makes them feel their job is important
  • 21% more likely to report that at work, they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day

Here are some suggestions that can foster quality relationships between coworkers. Best of all, these relationship-building activities can be done during lunch hour. Take a break, enjoy each other’s company, and get to know the people you work with over a meal.

Buddy Lunch: Pair a new employee with an older staff member to have an informal one-on-one lunch at a nearby eatery. Use this time to take a walk and bond by sharing a meal in a casual environment.

Themed Potlucks: Once a month, SGA holds an hour long meeting to reflect upon working developments. After some critical conversations, each SGA staff brings in a dish to share. The conversation continues all the way into clean-up time where we tag team to do the dishes. Teamwork and funny conversations naturally develop over Alphabet, Prediction, Campfire, and Smelly Food-themed potlucks.

Salons: Recognize that each and every employee has passions and pursuits outside of work. Take a lunch break to have an open forum to share and cross-pollinate new ideas. As examples, one SGAer shared her experience surviving the Eastern Sierra wilderness in the winter. Another SGAer shared the lessons he learned as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Panama.

This Valentine’s Day, nurture and celebrate all relationships, but especially ones within the workplace. Take initiative to build a stronger work community.

On Listening and Meaningful Change: Angeline Lee

(This is a part of a series of biographical pieces to introduce you to the SGA staff.)

With a warm smile and infectious laughter that lights up the office, Angeline Lee (or Angie as she is known) has the innate ability to weave kindness with impact into her work. This upcoming March, she will be celebrating her two-year anniversary with SGA as a Project Specialist on multiple projects. A University of California, San Diego graduate with a degree in Environmental Systems, Angie has developed three key lessons for implementing effective social and environmental marketing work within local communities. Take notes. With her positive presence, Angie has the keys to making a better world.

On Listening
I learned early on to never underestimate the simple power of listening. I once worked with resistant communities in the Santa Monica mountains who would hang up the phone on me as we encouraged them to comply with environmental permit regulations. So I changed tactics. I stopped talking at them. I visited them in person and began listening. I listened to what motivated their actions, what they feared about these environmental permits, and how it will affect them. Instead of speaking at the community from the voice of a government entity, I worked to foster trust and personal connection with these communities while directly addressing their concerns, which helped all of us to achieve our mutual goals.

On the Curse of Knowledge
One of my favorite projects at SGA was working on an informational signage project with the Orange County Department of Public Works. They had recently renovated their campus with ground-breaking (literally!) infrastructure improvements that saved water and reduced the amount of pollutants running into the storm drains. Our task was to create a series of beautiful signs across the site to educate visitors about the visible and non-visible developments and the environmental impact of each to encourage a dialogue between pedestrians and the built environment – which we did. To achieve this, it was important to be mindful of avoiding the curse of knowledge, which occurs when the educator unknowingly assumes that their audience has the background knowledge to understand the information presented. Therefore, we went beyond sharing theory, facts, and technical language to make the signs accessible to everyone – water expert or not.

On Meaningful Change
When working with local communities, I am most energized when I get to see change happen in person. Every year in May, over 4,000 students, teachers, and volunteers gather on the beaches of Los Angeles to clean up trash for Kids Ocean Day. Afterwards, the community gathers together to form aerial art as a united expression of protecting the health of the ocean. After months of preparation, coordination, and hard work, I love waking up on the morning of the event (is 3AM considered morning?) to be a small part of the larger community across California to make a better world for future generations. Together, we can create meaningful change.

SGA’s ‘Whistle While You Work’ Vol. 3

Break out of your normal pattern of thinking. According to an article published by The New York Times, when the mind is wandering, music can bring you back into focus and “make a repetitive job feel more lively.” Enliven the post-Holiday lows, expand your mind and listen to SGA’s personally curated playlist to boost 2017 as a year of energetic change in the world.
SGA’s “Whistle While You Work” Vol. 3

STAFF Songs in Playlist (Title/Artist)
Lauren The Imitation Game Soundtrack
Megan “Work on It” by Alicia Keys 
Jackie “Selfish” by Slum Village ft John Legend & Kanye West
Angie “Blessings” by Chance the Rapper ft Jamila Woods & Byron Cage
Carolina “You Can Go Now” by Schmieds Puls
Paloma “History Has It’s Eyes on You” by John Legend
Joy “There You Are” by Pogo
Ly “Dancing On My Own” by Calum Scott
Jessica  “My Favorite Part” by Mac Miller ft Ariana Grande 
AND “Say You Won’t Let Go” by James Arthur

Sign up for SGA’s newsletter to keep up with the latest in community-based social marketing and behavior change.

7 Green Holiday Tips for Your Business

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” -Rumi

People may mistakenly believe that they have to make grand, life-altering changes to make a difference. This can lead to frustration and disappointment. SGA believes that true change begins with a series of small steps — little things you do everyday can make an impact. Small steps turn into daily occurrences and daily occurrences turns to change.  This concept can also be applied to businesses. That’s why this holiday season, we are sharing 7 small steps you can take to help your business become a little greener.  Start implementing these changes now to lay the foundation for a greener tomorrow.

  • Donate to your favorite environmental organization this holiday season. Choose a non-profit that is local to your community to make the most impact. Want to donate products to needy communities and other non-profits? Consider donating via
    • Bonus: Donate in your employee’s name and bask in the feel good nature of giving.
  • Volunteer time at soup kitchen or shelter. Need more inspiration? If you’re in the Los Angeles area, there’s an annual Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count that will be held in January. SGA staff will be grouping together to make sure everyone counts regardless of where they live. Get a group of your coworkers and go together!
  • Donate leftover holiday party food. If food is being served in abundance, refresh trays rather than putting all of it out at once to prevent spoilage. Any food that has not been put out at the end of the party can be donated to a local shelter or food pantry. Not only will this reduce waste, but this will enhance the spirit of Christmas giving to those in need. Call ahead for details on what the shelter can use and how to deliver.
  • Decorate the office with natural or recycled items. It is completely possible to turn trash into treasure. It’s called upcycling. If you need any last minute gift ideas with a more personal and eco-friendly touch, this is it. Get started with a mason jar. Use it to gift baking sets, remake your desk lamp and more. Get ideas here. If you’re wrapping last-minute gifts, use recycled paper or organic material to wrap a gift instead of using a new roll of wrapping paper which can save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.
  • Don’t use disposable utensils for lunches or dinner.
    Twenty-five percent more trash is discarded from Thanksgiving to New Year’s than any other time of year. Let’s apply positive behavior change within ourselves and not add to that percentage.

    • Bonus: Before the year ends, set up a casual potluck with your coworkers and aim for a zero-waste shared meal.
  • After the season ends, recycle your Christmas tree. Yes, it’s possible to recycle your Christmas tree. Live trees are biodegradable. In the Los Angeles area, there are many locations where your tree can be turned into mulch. Find a location near you.
    • Bonus: If you don’t have a recycling program in your area, contact the National Christmas Tree Association: to learn how you can begin one in your community.
  • Green employee gift ideas. Give gifts of locally produced food and products in cloth shopping bags or baskets with your company’s logo. Reusable coffee cups or travel mugs can also be purchased with company logos.

#GivingTuesday: A Powerful Catalyst for Behavior Change

The impact of giving on #GivingTuesday
Every year for the last five years, brands, non-profits and people have come together in gratitude to raise money for different causes. Last year, #GivingTuesday raised over $116M from over 700,000 donors across the world! While the monetary results of #GivingTuesday are significant, it can also be a powerful tool to trigger behavioral change as it addresses key behavior change barriers:

  • Lack of knowledge. The most common barrier for getting involved with any cause is lack of knowledge. Leading up to #GivingTuesday, brands and non-profits are actively promoting their causes, which increases public education. The more people know about causes, the deeper their connection is and the more likely they are to act.
  • Lack of social pressure. Social norms are accepted behaviors that people adopt and follow in current society. During #GivingTuesday, social media becomes a powerful motivator that plays a key role in establishing social norms. Givers are encouraged to use #GivingTuesday to share their efforts and, more importantly, signal their contributions publicly. When seeing that your friends are giving on #GivingTuesday, wouldn’t you be more inspired to get involved?
  • Structural barriers. The key goal of #GivingTuesday is to turn intention into action. Therefore, making participation convenient is key. On #GivingTuesday, people can choose their preferred way to donate, which makes the process of giving convenient.

#GivingTuesday is a powerful catalyst for behavior change. The opportunity is to make that change last. To ensure a long-lasting impact, it’s crucial to continue reinforcing actions donors can take year-round. Participated organizations should actively connect donors with meaningful actions: have them sign-up for the next beach cleanup, invite them to plant a tree or inform them about volunteer opportunities.
Make the impact of #GivingTuesday last!

To Create Change, Seeing is Believing

At SGA, the projects we pursue focus on behavioral changes and social marketing to improve local communities. Over the years, SGA has learned that one of the most effective tools to generate awareness and change is by producing short videos. According to emarketer, US adults now own more connected devices than ever and 5½ hours are spent indulging in video content a day. With statistics like this, producing an engaging video can transform an abstract concept such as stormwater management, to concrete actions for your audience.

Check out the videos SGA created for our Orange County Stormwater and PaintCare clients. Each video has a unique message, but both videos share two objectives: to ignite meaningful behavior change and to create a better world. While these are lofty and high-brow concepts, our videos are fun, relatable and dare we say it, educational.

For Orange County Stormwater, SGA cultivated a community champion named Kevin from Rancho Santa Margarita. We hired a small production company to film his beautiful drought tolerant backyard while he highlighted actionable goals he achieved to stop overwatering.

For PaintCare, we ran a pilot program to test the most effective message to get the Latino community to recycle paint. We ended up choosing to illustrate a fictional story between a father and daughter who are stumped about what to do with excess paint. With the help of whiteboard animators, we created the video below.

Videos are powerful tools to promote your social message and to foster behavior change. Next time you need to reach a wide audience, consider allocating a portion of your resources to producing videos. The results will far exceed the costs.